Genetics Affect Whether You Take Surveys
Despite having been on the front lines of social research for twenty five years, interviewing respondents personally and eliciting data through surveys, I still feel somewhat surprised and disbelieving that people really want to participate in research. But they do. Sometimes eagerly. Almost always truthfully. Surely, my surprise stems from my own reluctance to fill out surveys.
It turns out that I may just lack the survey-taking gene. No joke. New research of genetic and fraternal twins shows that our willingness to participate in research is shaped in part by our genes. The research was led by Lori Foster Thompson, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, and is soon to be published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. As reported on Science Daily:
For the study, the researchers sent out a survey to over 1,000 sets of twins — some fraternal, some identical — and then measured who did and did not respond. The researchers were interested in whether the response behavior of one twin accurately predicted the behavior of the other twin. “We found that the behavior of one identical twin was a good predictor for the other,” Foster Thompson says, “but that the same did not hold true for fraternal twins.
“Because all of the sets of twins were raised in the same household, the only distinguishing variable between identical and fraternal twin sets is the fact that identical twins are genetically identical and fraternal twins are not.”
Understanding why some people avoid surveys is important because systematic non-participation can be a source of error in research known as “non-response bias.” It is critical to understand the sources and potential effects of skewed samples. Of course what this research does not tell us is whether genetics has any effect on the outcomes we are trying to measure. If the genetic survey-takers are no different from the non-survey-takers on the key issues we care about in our research, then it does not matter.
It is ironic that some of us have trouble relating to the willingness of respondents who are the lifeblood of our work. But it is also a good thing that helps us anticipate all the potential difficulties that good research overcomes. Here at Versta Research, the happy-survey-takers advise on the best pitch for those who love it, while those who are reluctant, like me, advise on the barriers we may need to overcome. In the end, you get research designed to understand precisely and accurately the full population of people you care about, whatever their genetic dispositions may be.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.